More than 20 new jobs are being created by leading marine equipment and engineering services supplier, Gael Force Group, which has secured a multi-million pound order for new feed barges from the Scottish Salmon Company.
Gael Force will build an initial three feed barges for SSC’s operations in the Outer Hebrides in a deal worth just under £2.5 million.
The contract could double in size, as a further three, 200-tonne barges will be built subject to future expansion plans by SSC.
Coming on top of Gael Force’s existing and expected workload, it will see the company’s workforce increase to 200, the highest ever level.
The first phase of the SSC deal will see Gael Force deliver and install the SeaMate 200T barges by August. If approved, the second phase will be completed in early 2016.
Various production and design posts have already been filled, but Gael Force continues to search for welders, fabricators, pipefitters and concrete operatives across its bases at Inverness and Forres.
Stewart Graham, Gael Force Group Managing Director, said: “These are among the highest specification 200-tonne feed barges we have built, which demonstrates the level of investment and commitment The Scottish Salmon Company is making to the long-term future of Scottish aquaculture.
“It is a huge vote of confidence in the industry and in our workforce. Coming on top of our existing workload, which includes significant orders for other aquaculture companies, we are now operating at full capacity and we have to increase staff numbers and extend work patterns to deal with the demand.
“Our reputation as an employer, and the recent downturn in the oil industry, makes me confident that we will recruit new staff very quickly.”
Mr Graham said aquaculture is a key industry for Scotland and some of the country’s most remote communities: “We have seen the growth of Scottish aquaculture over 30 years, delivering valuable and high quality jobs across the rural areas of the Highlands and Islands which has been transformative for these areas.
“High quality Scottish farmed salmon is now a critical part of Scotland’s world renowned food and drink sector and, with smart and coherent government policy, has a long term future of growth to look forward to. This will make a hugely positive economic impact by way of jobs, both directly employed in the extensive supply chain and, critically, to our country’s balance of trade.
“No other industry in our recent past, other than the oil industry, has delivered so positively for the Highlands and Island of Scotland. The level of investment on this current contract by one of the industry’s leading players demonstrates it has a bright future, but it needs ongoing political support and the backing of the statutory bodies to allow it to continue to develop sustainably.”
Minister for Environment Dr Aileen McLeod said: “This investment is great news for the aquaculture sector in the Outer Hebrides and will create jobs for the local area.
“The industry is a major contributor to the economy of Scotland as a whole and the Highlands and Islands in particular and this deal between the Scottish Salmon Company and Gael Force Group will help sustain and grow the industry in the area.”
The contract is another major milestone for the Scottish Salmon Company which operates from about 60 locations and employs more than 480 people.
Craig Anderson, SSC’s Managing Director, said: “Our contract with Gael Force represents a major investment in both our salmon farming business and the aquaculture industry supply chain in Scotland.
“It also reinforces our commitment to developing long-term partnerships with local suppliers that help support our growth ambitions and also provide long-term, first-class aftercare. We are committed to the economic growth of rural Scotland and to the local communities where our staff live and work.
“We are delighted to place this major order in Scotland and work with companies who share our values and commitment to rural communities. Gael Force is a world class company, which has a proven track record in the Highlands and Islands as a long-time supplier of quality services and workmanship to the aquaculture industry.”
The new contract keeps Gael Force on course with its ambitious growth drive aimed at building sales towards £50 million over the next four years, with even further growth planned longer term.
Stewart Graham added: “We are two years into our strategic plan and remain bang on track with expected sales of £25 million this year. We are an ambitious company but have the resources and expertise to fulfil those ambitions.”
Gael Force has worked in the aquaculture industry for many years, designing and supplying structures for fish farm operators in Scotland, Ireland, Spain, the Faroes and Norway which are often used in hostile weather conditions.
The SeaMate 200T feed barges are essentially self-contained floating operational bases for fish farms which can operate in almost any weather and are delivered fully fitted-out with feed silos, operational staff living accommodation and welfare facilities, computer-controlled feed systems, generators, tankage and all electrics, in addition to site-based operational facilities.
The high-spec barges being built for the Scottish Salmon Company also include integrated 10-tonne ensilors, additional compressors, back-up power generation systems and four-line feed systems.